Every nation and community has its cultural heritage - customs, the way of life, stories and legends that are passed from generation to generation. Legends and myths are a very important part of every culture, as they depict the history and the history of the development of those people, and best represent their way of thinking. Many myths and teachings have been made up a long time ago to explain what was considered unexplainable (illness, natural disasters, accidents) or to protect children from the dangers that darkness and loneliness provided. Although they are no longer needed in this respect, they are still part of our culture and tradition to be cultivated.
These are some of the most famous Croatian supernatural beings:
Witches have a significant role in traditional Croatian beliefs. Witches could be recognized by their looks and behavior which was not usually considered "normal," so witches were usually "ugly," "old" or "extremely beautiful" women, as were those who didn't follow preset behavioral norms. Witches were always women, while warlocks are rarely even mentioned. Witches have extraordinary power, which they use to hurt people and animals, they are usually active by night, and they gather by flying to their meetings by using a magical formula to help them fly without disturbance. It is believed that witches have a small pot of grease made from unique plants and hidden in their hearth, as well as a special stick or hoe they use to beat hearth to make the pot appear. That grease and magical words are used to make witches fly without any accidents. Witches are also able to transform into birds or other animals or objects. There are examples of a witch being transformed to a fly that flies out the mouth and comes to do evil. Besides transformation, flying, and gatherings one of the most significant powers of witches is "evil eye." It is believed that witches can cause harm or even death with their evil eye, so people did everything they could to avoid evil eye and they even avoided any contact with the person who was considered to have it. Defense against the witches was having garlic in your pocket because the sharp scent of garlic chases witches away and protects from all possible witchcraft. According to the Croatian national beliefs, witches can steal milk from cows. During the young moon, the witch takes a long rope and ties it to the front door pillar from the street side of the house. She puts the pot under the rope end and makes movements as if milking a cow. People, who saw the witch doing it, swore they saw milk flowing from the rope to the pot in a dense and strong stream.
Belief in fairies is the most widespread of all. Most often they are described as beautiful young ladies with long hair and soft and transparent body, with beautiful eyes, pleasant voice, dressed in airy white gowns, with a shroud over their head which allows them to fly. If their shroud gets torn, they will lose their ability to fly. Their hair is most often golden, let loose and long, so it hits the ground. Their hair must not be pulled; even if a single hair is pulled out they will die because of it! Fairies are of ambivalent nature; they can be nice to people but also very dangerous or evil if they are not pleased. Their ambivalence is also noticeable in their looks, although very beautiful and innocent in their upper part of their body, they have animal legs, most often legs of a goat or a donkey. Their power is significant, and they can rule the weather, and make crops grow overnight. They live secluded from people, in nature, most often in forests, and they come out of them to meadows and roads, but they are most often seen near or in the water. They are often seen alone or in odd numbers of three, five, seven or nine. They can transform into a bird, cloud, fog, flower or something similar. It was said that the fairies do their fairy dance in the moonlight, in places far away from any human presence, most often on the meadows surrounded by forests. Places, where they danced, were marked by a perfect circle. Within that circle, there would have been no grass. People avoided those places, especially at dusk, because they believed that fairies would do them harm. Only rare, pure people could join their dance, either accidentally or when invited by fairies themselves.
THE NIGHT HAG
The Night hag is a female demon who can come in many forms during the night to give person nightmares and scare him. Sometimes it is a dark mass or a shadow seen on person’s chest or neck during the night. The person attacked by a night hag is restless, grunts, tosses himself in sleep, has hard time breathing, grabs his chest and when he wakes up often says that something was strangling him in sleep. The defense against night hags was closing keyholes through which they came into the room.
The fates are three women who are dressed in white that come into the house through the chimney, keyhole or a door that someone forgot to close when a baby is born into the house. When they come strange things start to happen; fire in the fireplace or a candle is extinguished or lit, dogs howl, and the high wind starts to blow. They stand next to the fireplace or the door and all talk same time so people cannot tell which one premonition which fate to the newborn baby.
DUPLIERI (POSVEČKARI, SVEČARI, SVEČURKI)
Duplieri are small flames seen in Podravina burning and floating above the fields. It is believed that those are spirits of deceased children that have not been baptized before their death. They cannot go to heaven or hell, so they are left on earth playing and wondering around. They can bring luck to people that see them.
Vedi are very tall male beings very similar to humans that live in deep in the woods. When they talk or sing they can be heard very far. They are extremely strong; they can pull trees out with their roots and carry them on their shoulders. They live in tribes, and they have their cities inside the woods. There are good and bad ones. Bad ones are never around people but stay deep in the woods, and they are also known as WOOD VEDs. They don’t kill people, but if they come across one, they take it to their city and keep it there as their prisoner. They are known to torture their prisoner, but after some time they let it go home starved and weak.
Good veds come to people and help them. In the past, almost every household had its own HOUSE VED. Every house ved had its name and helped people living in the house, they were very loyal, and they have been known to hurt house veds from other houses. People believed that veds are souls of deceased great-grandfathers.
WATER SPIRIT (MALE)
Water spirit is a waterman, all green, ruler of the waters, with long hair and beard, all covered in moss and vegetation. They live in rivers and lakes with their wives, and they take care of their kingdom of fish, crabs, and scallops. If a fisherman or a swimmer disturb him, he will drown him and make him his servant keeping his soul in a clay pot.
In old beliefs when a child or person drowns water spirits were always to blame. They are very strong, and almost no one can fight against them, but if a swimmer is strong as well, they will make him have cramps in their arms and legs, and there is no saving him.
WATER SPIRIT (FEMALE)
Female water spirits are wives of a male water spirit. They are ugly, spooky, and green women, but they can transform to beauties for the only reason to lure a person so they can help their husband drown him. They can also lure people with their song. They wear water grass and shells on their head and are dressed in green water vegetation.
Drowner is a Water spirits servant, a drowned swimmer or a fisherman whose soul is forever captured in a clay pot. To save themselves from being drowned by a Water spirit people believed that it is not good to swim in the early morning or late evening, especially not during noon, when church bells ring, or in places heavily covered in water vegetation. Fishermen have seen Water spirits green hand grabbing the sides of their boats, and when that happens, defense is to beat it with an oar and run away as fast as you can. When on land drowner looks like a small child, dressed in green with a pointy hat on his head.
Although its original meaning got lost dog-head man is well known among the people, even today, and is related to bold men or men with a shaved head. It is believed that dog-head man is related to Tatar invasion of Croatia in 1242. Their invasion was short, but well remembered among people cause of their cruelty, and the legend about dog-haired man came from it. Dog-haired man is among rare mythical creatures that can be related to real historical events. Some story-tellers say that Tatars (Dog-head men) fought a great war, and although most left some of them stayed, wondering around the woods, eating raw meat after sitting on it for some time. They had dog face and one eye, they looked different, especially around the eyes (Mongol look) and they were violent.
WILD or FOREST GIRLS
Wild or forest girls are female looking creatures of the shorter statue who live deep in the forest. Their body is covered in hair, they have longer and stronger arms, and they are very strong and can run very fast. They live in the oak trees and are seen flying among treetop during the day. They don’t wear clothes, and their body is hidden by long brown hair. They were never heard talking to each other or to people, but they are known to call one another with loud and long screams. When they are hungry they scream and shout. Wild girls come out of woods with first autumn fogs coming closer to shepherds’ fires to get themselves warm. They avoid people because they are scared of them, but there have been situations when they came into houses. They came to people’s backyards driven by great hunger. Woman of the house would usually leave them some food in the corner of the backyard and wild girls would be very grateful for it and would do small chores, such as cleaning the yard or a barn, getting firewood or something similar as a sign of their gratitude. Wild girls are never mean to people, and although people mistreated them sometimes they never took revenge.
Dark is an evil spirit, night, demonic creature seen on roads and paths, known to come in backyards, also. It looks like a grownup man with a big hat, and it leaves bruises on its victims. Dark attacks women more than men. When a woman goes to the well or a barn during the night, she can step on Dark and then gets a fever, and can even die unless a local healing woman helps her with magic. Dark can even bite women, and then they get big black bruises that disappear after few weeks. It can also slap people, and then people lose consciousness or become black.
A white woman is a creature that is a sign of great evil coming, like wars or a great sadness for people that see her. She is dressed in a white gown without any accessories and wears a white veil over her head, and her face is hidden. She is almost two meters tall, and she does not leave footprints in the grass or snow when she walks because she hovers over the ground. She was seen before First and Second World War, as well as before the war in ex Yugoslavia. Last time she was seen was in the year 1988 in a cemetery in Ždala.
Plague is an old woman dressed in black who wanders around the world making people ill and killing them with illness. She has no compassion; she only does the work that higher forces ordered her to do. She is known as a being doing God’s will, and with that, she is not considered evil, but just as a messenger of God. People try to protect themselves against the Plague by leaving her bribes in the form of a basket filled with cheese, ham, and bread left on the crossroad in front of their village, hoping she bypasses their village.
LITTLE HUNTERS (NIGHT HUNTERS)
Little hunters are anthropomorphic creatures who grew up to the shoulder level of a grownup person the most. They are dressed in green clothes carrying a rifle on their shoulder, with a small, mouse size, black dog walking by their feet. You could hear their dogs from far away, as well as Little hunters calling them, and the sound of their hunting horns. Little hunters themselves were very silent; you cannot hear their footsteps or see them on the ground. They move fast, and you can see them in one moment, and they are gone in another. They rarely speak to people. They can be seen in all seasons, but mostly in autumn. Their sudden appearance used to scare people.
THE LITTLE ONE
The little one is a demon appearing in childlike form. It is also called The Little One with a red hat. People say that he usually hangs in the fields near bushes, and if he comes out to the path, he is often riding a horse. He is about the height of a five to seven-year-old, but with a face of a forty-year-old man without beard or mustache. He is dressed in pants and a coat of earthly tone and wears a belt, with a pointy, red hat on his head. The little one is never in a hurry but walks across the field slowly. If he comes across a river or a stream he never gets wet when passing over it. He is the protector of an old tradition, helps married couples and tries to make peace between people fighting. He is also a protector of milk women and all women who make products out of milk. A milk woman must not pray for more milk unless she is written in the little one's book, if she does it without him knowing, then her cow will give less milk, and she will not be able to sell her products on the market. The little one is helpful to people who are kind to him. He loves to eat, especially greasy oatmeal, and often asks people to feed him, and he gives them wheat in return.
Devil is a demonic creature who comes from Christian belief. He looks like a human but has horns, tail and goat feet. He can appear in many forms, as a gentleman, a boy in red pants, a black cat or a dog. The devil can be seen in fields, roads, crossroads or woods. He is afraid of a cross, holy water, and a rosary. His primary task is to make people stop believing in God and write them in his book. Whoever is written in his book has a place in hell saved for him.
In deep holes with underground waters, live beasts with big snouts and tails. People call them dragons. They are described as flying creatures that fight with clouds during storms. They are related to both water and earth, and they can cause hailstones. It is also considered that they can live in wells. People used to give them sacrifice to them, so they don’t act up. Most often people would pour whey into the hole or a well that dragon lived in. That custom is called “feeding the dragon.”
In folk beliefs, there are many ghosts, they are most often ghosts of the deceased. They appear in various shapes: Shadows that pass through, strange signs, sightings in the mirror, dark contours - especially common are the stories about haunted houses when the soul of a deceased person could not calm down it would occupy a house, most often where the dead person lived and died. Almost every village had one such abandoned house that was believed to be haunted by ghosts.